America's Toxic 'Innocence'
Editor’s Note: There is a troubling question looming: whether the United States – with its yahoo media culture, its corrupt elites and its downwardly mobile masses – has a political system that can address the host of problems arrayed before it.
In this guest essay, poet Phil Rockstroh suspects that the rot has reached too deep:
Even as President Barrack Obama waxed eloquent in Cairo, Egypt, on the moral imperatives of the community of nations, public opinion polls released in the United States revealed that, by a substantial percentage, its citizens believe torture is an acceptable option for interrogation of suspects deemed terrorists by various U.S. governmental agencies.
In addition, other polls show a majority of the American public hold the opinion that the all-American theme park of state torture, located at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, should remain open for business and continue to welcome guests from around the globe, taking them for the ride of their lives through the dark id of the American psyche.
These revelations should not come as a shock. Torture, official secrecy, and other sundry apparatus and accouterments of the national security state are about the only viable enterprises remaining in this declining nation.
Moreover, one of the defining traits of the insecure (both among men and nations) is to stand, bristling in a paranoid posture, with feet planted in stubborn defiance of changing circumstances, snarling at invisible threats and imagined affronts, as life moves on with indifferent grace.
Recently, in the latest in a series of setbacks and self-inflicted wounds, the national identity of the United States sustained another humiliating blow when General Motors was driven into a ditch, declared totaled, and then stripped and sold for spare parts.
This event throws a rod into the smoking engine block of the nation's dream machine: The automobiles manufactured in Detroit were once symbols of American power, freedom of mobility, even sexual allure.
But the world has sped ahead, leaving the US wheezing dust in its wake: The era of high horsepower and American ascendancy, with its glinting chrome conceit and reinforced steel illusions of unassailable power, now sits upon concrete blocks rusting in the automobile graveyard of history.
At present, and for many years now, the American automobile culture has meant little more than feckless commuters stalled in traffic, alternatively sullen and seething in their powerlessness.
Yet, this is not the time to throw a populist pity party: The people of the nation face a future circumscribed by their own lack of self-awareness and their refusal of civic engagement. Year after year, they have displayed avidity for little more than the rigged, roadside attractions of the corporate carnival; hence, traffic is heavy on this lost highway, all lanes are jammed on the superhighway to Clowntown, U.S.A.
Seemingly, the nation's hopes are only being kept flickering by caffeine, antidepressants and the naive belief that they -- accepting, as Americans have, since birth, the narcissistic mythos of the consumer state -- are a special breed whose God-kissed destiny would forever fall outside the failures and contretemps of earthly life.
Therefore, Americans cling to the core conviction that there should not be any consequences for their own oceanic apathy, child-like credulity and small-time cupidity in regard to their relationship to the elitist power brokers whose financial chicanery and political scheming determined their hapless fate.
Waiting for Fortuna
Both prole and plutocrat set the wheel in motion, and both wait for some kind of deux ex machina, whereby Fortuna will smile once again on the hobbled nation, and restore it and all its special children to their rightful place -- up above the world of regret, reflection, and amends -- back upon their highchairs of infantile entitlement.
And while the populace waits in vain for the Goddess of Luck to rise from the wreckage of their vanity, they still have a glut of junk food, guns and porn (some of the last remaining goods produced by the nation) to act as palliatives ... miserable substitutes -- that they are -- for sustenance, feelings of empowerment, and eros.
At present, the citizens of the U.S. moan "poor us" as they stagger through this "time of crisis." The American people seem as helpless as pitiful puppies whimpering before the multiple and multiplying perils of the present.
Yet, they are not wronged innocents, made blameless victims because of their hapless but well-meaning credulity. Nonsense. U.S. consumers have been the beneficiaries of the mad-dog policies of the American corporate/national security state nexus.
Greedily, they devoured the scraps dropped from the tables of the oligarchs. This PitifulPup/Mad Dog Syndrome defines the era, and is the collective mode of being of citizens of the American Empire (regardless of the public relations makeover the Obama administration is attempting to pull off worldwide).
For meaningful change to occur, Americans must look deeper into themselves and into the collective soul of the nation. Not far beneath the bristling ego structure of the torturer (and his enablers in the general population) is a quaking pup possessed of a monstrous need for absolute control.
Incongruously, the torturer is terrified by his victim. The torturer, like the empire itself, cannot control the vastness of life (he sees the world's uncontrollability as a ticking time bomb somewhere near him he cannot locate) -- but his victim, the human fragment of the world quivering before him, can be (must be!) totally dominated.
Or so it seems within the fear-frothing mind of the Mad Dog torturer. But this does not suffice: The absolute domination of one solitary human being cannot bridle the uncertainty inherent in life. The torturer's dread cannot be assuaged.
In the same manner an alcoholic cannot dominate a bottle of booze by will power, a power-drunk nation cannot subdue its terror by practicing torture.
And what is it that invokes such fear in the people of America?
Deep down, Americans are stricken with abject fear by the fact that it is impossible to continue being the dominate power on the planet and being indulged, like spoiled children, with all the benefits and privileges such a position affords.
The United States tortures to maintain the global status quo. Remember: "Our way of life is non-negotiable." We'll torture or kill anyone (even ecologically, the planet) for a tank of gas and a bag of Cheetos (or any of an assortment of tasty, salt-rich snack foods).
If this preposterous way of life was a classic, Madison Avenue ad campaign, its catchphrase might be: "Bet you can't torture just one." Or: "Go for it!" Or the latest offering of glistening snake oil that has been marketed to the nation: "Yes, we can."
But, as far as investigating U.S. governmental policies of torture and then prosecuting its architects and operatives goes, the Obama administration's mantra has degenerated from, “yes, we can,” to “no, can-do.”
Unless President Obama reverses course, he will prove himself not to be an agent of change, but another water-board carrier for the psychopaths of the status quo.
Such a high level of denial only increases the intensity of the murderous libido that flows beneath the surface of American life -- that chthonic river of repressed rage surging within the psyches of the besieged laboring class, who, despite being burdened by debt slavery and chafed by ever diminishing prospects, still clutch the kitschy iconography of the god of the consumer state.
Although that god has fallen, it will not go solemnly to the bone-yard of dead myths.
In the contemporary U.S., debt slavery, a lack of future prospects, the constant threat of bankruptcy and homelessness, and the danger of gun violence are all very real; yet, day and night, alluring media mirages beckon Americans into a blinding wasteland of false hope.
Daily existence feels unreal -- a constant, hollow communion with electronic phantoms. A chasm of alienation opens between the polarity of unreal expectations and degraded real-life situations. Toxic schlock syndrome sets in.
The sense of alienation is so profound that many citizens on the political right believe that President Obama cannot in reality be a citizen of this country; his name is too foreign, his skin possesses a hue too different from their own.
His birth certificate must be as bogus as an IOU from Bernie Madoff. He can't be a real American; he seems no more real, nor connected with the concerns of their lives, than any other ghost in the media hologram.
But guns feel real to these troubled folks. The weapon's weight in their hands wards off an unfocused sense of dread; its heft, momentarily, mitigates feelings of being helplessly adrift ... Looking down the precise beauty of its barrel distills down hazy hatreds into identifiable targets.
Within their fog-shrouded minds, the very presence of that "slick-ass usurper" in the White House causes the ground to feel less than solid beneath their feet. Ergo, guns must be stockpiled; massive amounts of ammunition stored for ballast.
These treacherous days, that are so muffled by the white noise of uncertainty, must yield to something as clear and decisive as the crack of a rifle shot.
Tantrum on the Right
A collective tantrum rages on the right, as their ranks hold their breath and hoard bullets.
In the enveloping darkness of political powerlessness, they are sleeping with their Sarah Palin night-light on, then tossing fitfully awake attempting to mollify themselves by gazing mindlessly at Fox News crib mobiles, then scanning the heavens craving a Happy Meal apocalypse.
"I won't share my toys; they're mine! I want my tax cut lolly! Now!" Their sippy cups runneth over with rage. Overweight, evincing a junk food engendered, toddler-like waddle and blubbering in their snit fit of thwarted id, they resemble heavily armed Teletubbies in the throes of an angel dust-induced psychosis.
The nation seethes with cranky, overgrown babies who kill. How could it not come to this, when the nation tortures like little boys plucking the wings from hapless flies?
But the Empire of Perpetual Id cannot be sustained. What Obama apprehends, and was the underlying theme of his Cairo stem-winder: The people of the world have grown weary of our brattiness. They wish to rouse us from our long nappytime of exceptionalism.
The world has moved on, while too many Americans sit bawling in their toxic innocence.
Meanwhile, the most special children whose privileged faces were ever touched by the golden light of the sun, the elite of Wall Street, bang their silver spoons on their skyscraper highchairs, whining, "We want more bonus candy, We want to go for a ride in my Gulfstream Jet stroller, We want to go play in our Dubai sandbox -- Gimme, gimme! -- Now!"
Every four to eight years, presidential elections are held in the United States of Infantile Omnipotence in which we attempt to personify the nation with an adult face. Usually we fail: Bush with his crankiness and his tantrums of mass destruction; Clinton with his oceanic overreach and his inability to delay gratification; Reagan with his senile, regressed-to-childhood naps ... He even called his wife, "mommy."
Barack Obama appears to be an adult. Yet, in our childish national psyche, panicked and paralyzed because its arrested development has left it bereft of the ability to navigate the complexities of a rapidly changing world, having Obama as the face of the nation is like The Portrait of Dorian Gray -- but played out in reverse -- and produced as a pop-up book.
Worse, it appears the nation's collective mode of being might proceed straight from infancy to decrepitude, only briefly stopping in puberty for a session of online porno-induced masturbation.
Phil Rockstroh, a self-described, auto-didactic, gasbag monologist, is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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